The Top 10 Best TV Shows about Addiction and Mental Health
Being sober means, like me, you're probably at home, curled up on the sofa with a bar of chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea more often than you used to be. There's nothing wrong with that. (I'm actually much happier stuffing Lindt balls in my face than I was necking wines and dancing on tables.)
Nowadays, there's nothing I enjoy more that settling into a good doco or a bit of 'Recovery TV' on a Friday night. Give me anything gritty and honest. As an ex-boozer I'm obsessed with the tumultuous stories of others, the truth and trauma behind addiction. I'm fascinated in how people break free from the clutches of their habit and find a path to recovery. Discovering shows that resonate can be utterly inspirational when questioning substance issues or experiencing mental heath problems and, like podcasts and quit lit, TV can be a helpful tool in your own personal sobriety story.
Trigger warning - Please be aware - some of these TV shows will be triggering as they depict addicts at their most vulnerable and feature sexual abuse, violence and severe, end of life situations. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby too, you will need them.
1. The Virtues – On Stan (watch the trailer here)
Stephen Graham is incredible in this very real portrayal of one man’s struggle with alcohol and the demons from his past. The Virtues centres around Joseph who, struggling to recover from his addiction to alcohol, finds his world beginning to spiral when his ex-partner moves away from Liverpool to Australia to start a new life with their young son. Feeling like he has no close family to live for, he sets off for the south of Ireland to confront repressed memories from his childhood years in care and to reconnect with his long-lost sister Anna, who until now had thought her brother was dead. The story is so riveting and there is one scene which depicts the main character on a night out. He begins with good intentions and ends up in his flat covered in vomit. It’s is hard to watch perhaps because I could see myself in him. A must watch.
2. Louis Theroux - Drinking to Oblivion. Stan and ABC iView watch the trailer here
You’re always guaranteed quality when watching Louis. He asks the right questions in his deadpan, very British way; which means the interviewees answer him honestly and openly. In this brilliant series Louis heads to Europe's largest liver transplant centre where he sees the physical side effects of alcoholism and learns about the challenges doctors, patients and patients' families face in trying to treat it. The program is confronting because the stories are of 'normal drinkers' (is there such a thing?) whose drinking patterns have somehow got completely out of control. There is one young man named Joe in the show who seems very intellectual with everything going for him, his drinking has just spiralled since a painful breakup. The show is a great representation of how alcohol does not discriminate and how anyone can end up in turmoil. Heartbreaking, moving and sincere.
3. Amy – The Amy Winehouse story. Available on Netflix. (watch the trailer here)
This one is very sad. Because I'm a fan and because its a story we all predicted. We watched the slow demise of this truly amazing talent, but we all hoped she would be the one who overcame her issues. This story is one that is often repeated within the music industry. The documentary covers her early life, her love life and her complicated relationship with her father. The footage is fantastic, you get to see inside her life and there is some ‘before unseen’ performances that make your skin tingle. Rare home videos and interviews with Amy’s inner circle offer an intimate look at her journey from charismatic teen to unsettled star. An emotional watch but a necessary one.
4. Lil Peep – Everybody’s Everything – Netflix. (watch the trailer here)
I had never heard of this young Emo Rapper (I am a 44-year-old mother of three!) until I watched this incredible, painfully intimate documentary about his life. Lil Peep took vast amounts of footage of himself during his rise to fame, so this film tells the real story of a life changing from a small-town boy to someone with the world at their feet. Peep, Born Gustav Ahr, a child of two Harvard graduates, began rapping as a teenager to fight off panic attacks. His route to success was exuberant, with a sense that newfound paths to stardom were now possible: He met collaborators via the internet and often self-released his hypnotic songs, seemingly at the spur of the moment. Many were made on a laptop computer in his bedroom. In this tragic documentary Peep, who is then still a young man, has to learn how to manage the trappings of fame alongside a pill addiction. Incredible footage and a drug lesson for the modern era. A tragic tale of success and loss.
5. This Way Up - Stan - Comedy series tackling mental health. (watch the trailer here)
This is the best series I've seen in many years. The show follows two sisters with an authentic and heart warming relationship. The main character is played by Aisling Bea who also is the writer of the show. She's a tormented, yet hugely lovable woman trying to put her life back together after suffering a nervous breakdown. The show is relatable with many brilliant one liners and highlights the stigma around mental health (as she is often trying to hide how she is really feeling inside.) This is binge worthy TV and the second series is even funnier than the first. I felt a real camaraderie with these strong, wild women and could see part of myself in their flawed characters . By the end; I felt like they were my friends - weird? watch it and tell me otherwise. I promise you won’t be disappointed.